Declaring that there is “unfinished business in America beyond the playing field,” the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Wednesday called Orioles center fielder Adam Jones a symbol of the racial tension that surfaced this week in Boston and stirred conversations about prejudice in baseball and across the country.
In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, the civil-rights activist said Jones is “going through his Jackie Robinson moment,” referencing the Baseball Hall of Famer who 70 years ago became the first African-American to play major league baseball.
Jones faced racist taunts and had a bag of peanuts thrown at him Monday night at Fenway Park in a game against the Boston Red Sox. MLB officials condemned the conduct, and Red Sox principal owner John Henry and team president Sam Kennedy apologized to Jones and assured him they would take steps to prevent another such episode.
“He's handling it with amazing dignity and strength of character, and many people are coming to his rescue because this is such a horrible thing to happen, but it happens so often,” Jackson, 75, said of Jones. He added: “He's symbolizing the pain of this hour. There are far more people for him than against him. He represents the best in America.”
Jackson said that while the incident did not surprise him, it was particularly disappointing because of how it undercut the spirit of the rules underpinning a “phenomenal” game. In baseball, he explained, the dimensions of the infield are consistent, the score is always available, and the laws of the game are clear. Players are looked up to for their “uniform color, not their skin color.”
“So everything about the game makes it an ideal setting for the America we ought to be,” he said. “It's a great metaphor for the America we ought to be.”
Jackson called on the league to uphold its pledge to not tolerate what it called “inexcusable behavior,” saying it had a “sacred obligation” to protect the players who are most vulnerable.
Fans, he said, should not allow others to act as those in Fenway Park did. Jackson likened the ill effects of racism, especially in a venue as public as a ballpark, to those of smoking, and said silence is tantamount to complicity.
“There's unfinished business in America beyond the playing field,” he said. “No one has the option to not be involved, because there is no hiding place, whether you're on the field [or] off the field.”